What makes a client difficult?
There are those that want to tell you how to do your job? Others may want you to do their job and yours. Some just have no respect for you. And some are just nasty pieces of work.
We don’t get to pick our clients. We have to deliver value to them all, even the difficult ones. I promise you every Account Manager has a war story about a nightmare client. Just ask a colleague, you'll soon learn you're not alone.
I’ve had my fair share of them including one who almost 20 years later still makes my blood boil (watch the video to hear the story).
10 tips to deal with difficult clients
1. It's business, not personal
For the longest time I wanted my clients to like me. In fact I went out of my way to make that happen. And ended up being a doormat. I eventually realised that they don’t have to like me (or me them) in order for us to do good work together. In fact sometimes, it’s better. As Account Managers sometimes we have to tell a client what’s good for them, not what they want to hear. And tough love can be difficult to deliver to a client who’s also a friend.
2. Listen more, talk less
A great way to handle difficult clients is to deflect attention and answer a question with a question. It will keep your client talking. It may be more like a monologue and less like a conversation but you’ll learn a lot about them and help you avoid topics that push your buttons.
3. The devil is in the detail
Keep diligent notes on your conversation, down to the smallest nugget of information. If your client mentions in passing their favourite TV show or where they plan to vacation or their children’s names or hobbies, write them down. If they’ve got a major deadline or a big project their working on, write it down.
Keep the notes and refer to them before you next meet.
This will really help you build rapport, find some level on which to connect and you’ll win them over with your attention to detail. Try note taking apps like Evernote and Onenote to help you keep them organised.
4. Mirror and match
According to a famous study by Albert Mehrabian only 7% of what we communicate is by words, the other 93% is through nonverbal actions like body language. This tactic builds rapport by mirroring your clients’ voice tone, posture, facial expressions and voice quality.
It is tricky to pull off, but it’s worth practising as is very effective when dealing with difficult clients. This video that explains the mirror and match technique in more detail.
5. Meet more often in person
It may seem counter-intuitive to meet (and not avoid) a difficult client, but in fact you will communicate much better, pick up hidden messages and generally like them more if you if you see each other face-to-face. If it's not practical to meet in person, then use video conference calls. Share your video camera, even if they don't.
6. Try not to complain
This can be hard but don’t complain about how difficult your client is to manage. Complaining trains the brain for negativity It will be impossible to move on from your negative feelings if you perpetuate them. Plus your colleagues don’t want to hear about it. They’re probably as over it as you are. This podcast shares why complaining isn't good for you and how to avoid it.
7. Do things by the book
Do your job and do it well. Don’t take short cuts and don’t drop the ball. Send agendas, take meeting notes, follow your strategic account planning process, and be specific about the actions you're taking and the outcomes. Clarity is vital. It will avoid misunderstandings and help you stay focused on the work not the person.
You might not be motivated to go the extra mile for a difficult client but give them your best – even if at times you feel like they don't deserve it.
8. Talk to your manager
A problem shared is a problem solved. Let your manager know you are having difficulties with your client. They may have some good advice for you. It’s important they are aware if things escalate because you don’t want them caught off guard. You want to know you have your Manager on your side.
9. Take a break
Recharge your positive energy by taking a time out from your difficult client and instead work with a client you do like. It will be an energy boosting reminder that not everyone is as difficult to manage and there are clients who appreciate you.
10. Concede defeat
If you really have tried your best and done everything you know how and it’s just not working out - then wave the white flag. Let your manager know you feel it's best for you and the client if they are given a new account manager.
Don’t feel embarrassed, ashamed or a failure.
There are plenty of excuses your manager can make to your client about the change and you'll at least know you did your best to make the relationship work, which is all anyone can do.